Earliest political memory of the day #42

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The order of the three trailer-like short memories from when I was three years old was established in my adult life, i.e after I knew the historical significance and the sequence of events in the spring and Summer 1968:

1. Our family (my parents, myself, my maternal grandparents and my uncle) sit at a meal in the living room. Sun floods into the room. The scene is full of colour. The atmosphere is charged, tense with intense conversation. It has to do with politics (I am not sure I knew that word then), with things happening outside our house. My uncle (he was 12 at the time) says: “Who sniffles is for Smrček, who stamps his foot, is for Dubček [Kdo posmrkává je pro Smrkovkého, kdo podupává je pro Dubčeka.]. I have no idea what that means, but I know that something important is happening.
[Later reconstruction: It was, obviously, at the time of the Prague Spring 1968 and my uncle was telling the latest political joke he must have heard at school about how one tells political preferences from people’s gestures. The joke is in the puns: “Josef Smrkovský” was the name of the (Czecho)Slovak politician”, “smrkat” means “to blow one’s nose”, “posmrkavat” to sniffle; “Alexander Dubcek” also a (Czecho)Slovak politician, “dupat” means to “stamp one’s foot”; interestingly, the joke does not play off of the more obvious botanical pun: “smrk” means a “spruce”, “dub” an oak, “dubcek” would then be a diminutive. ]

2. It is night. I must have woken up. The night is filled with noise, humming.
[I do not remember more than that, but I think I also knew that something bad was happening, or perhaps that is a later reconstruction. Obviously, the night was 21 August 1968 and the noise were the tanks of the invading Warsaw Pact troupes. Our house being next to the road from Slovakia to the Czech part of Czechoslovakia, the tanks would have passed right next to us.]

A later memory: I point to the road running past our house and up the hill to town. The asphalt is all broken up. My mother says: “The Russians did that.” [To je od Rusáků.] [The damage from the passing tanks to the road remained a memento for some time, whether due to lack of funds or as a gesture of resistance, it was not paved over immediately.]

3. It is twilight. My mother and I walk from town along the road to our house [the same road as in the previous memory]. We talk. My mother says: “Don’t talk so loudly, or a Russian will come and shoot you.” [Nemluv tak nahlas, nebo přijde Rusák a zastřelí tě.].
[I have been wondering about the twilight for some time: was it really twilight? I remember that whole time as twilight.]

And then came the dream – or rather, a nightmare that haunted me for some years to come, until it was forgotten as I grew up and I remembered it again only about a decade ago:
It is twilight. The town square is filled with soldiers standing in files. I know they are Russians, bad. I also know they are after me, because I had strewn thumbtacks all over under their tanks to puncture their tyres (sic!), in order to stop them. I run down the hill from the square, I must hide, I run, they are after me — I wake up.

 

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